Since the implementation of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers in January and the removal of international sanctions, Iran’s old trading partners from Europe and Asia are seeking to re-establish economic ties. The arrival of South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Tehran May 1, the first visit of a South Korean president since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1962, not only held promising prospects for future economic relations, but could possibly have ramifications for each country's relations with North Korea.
An article headlined "Tehran, the bridge of reconciliation between the two Koreas," in Reformist Shargh Daily told about Park's historic May 2 meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The South Korean delegation reportedly included more than 200 government officials and business leaders. The two countries signed deals and memorandums of understandings in the fields of infrastructure building, energy exploration, banking and technology. Rouhani said that business and economic ties would increase by threefold from the current $6 billion a year to $18 billion.
Park also met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who praised the agreements between their two countries and called for "sustainable cooperation."
What attracted attention even in South Korean news agencies was Rouhani’s comments about nuclear weapons. "Security in the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East is important for both countries," Rouhani said. "We want peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, and on principle we are opposed to any type of weapons of mass destruction. [Iran's] desires are a world free of weapons of mass destruction, especially a Korean Peninsula and the Middle East free of weapons of destruction, especially nuclear."
While Rouhani did not mention North Korea in his speech, his reference to a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons leaves little doubt to which country he was referring. After years of touting its nuclear weapons, North Korea claimed to have tested its first nuclear device in 2006. In January, Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
Rouhani, who was secretary of Iran's Supreme National Supreme Council for 16 years, certainly must have understood the significance and sensitivity of his comments about nuclear weapons. South Korean officials welcomed the comments. "We believe that the message that Iran, a traditional partner of North Korea, sent at a leadership level probably communicated a strong warning to the North," Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said during a press conference, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Iran's military relations with North Korea date back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and they are believed to have continued to this day. Yonhap News Agency claimed that as recently as March, a North Korean firm sanctioned for arms trade visited Tehran.
While other officials have discussed Iran-North Korea military relations during the Iran-Iraq War, Iran's current ambassador to South Korea, Hassan Taherian, said that claims about North Korea helping Iran's missile industry are untrue. Regarding North Korea's nuclear tests, he also said, "Iran recommends to North Korea to learn a lesson from the comprehensive nuclear deal [between Iran and the six world powers] and to capitalize from it."
Despite South Korea's close relationship with the United States and Iran's close relationship with North Korea, Iran and South Korea have in the past been able to maintain economic ties, and these ties are now likely to increase. Iran's oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, told reporters May 1 that since the international sanctions on Iran have been removed, oil exports have jumped from 100,000 barrels a day to 400,000 barrels.
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